|Arnold Grant Funds Linguistic Study of Transnational Students in Puebla, Mexico
Prior to becoming a professor of Spanish at LVC, Dr. Kathleen Tacelosky found herself inside Mexican homes interviewing migrants as part of linguistic research. As she listened to the stories of their successes and challenges, she couldn’t help but wonder what life must be like for the large number of transnational students she encountered. These students were identified as those who completed at least one year of schooling in one country (the U.S.) then found themselves returning to schools in another country (Mexico). In an attempt to understand the phenomenon, Tacelosky set out to conduct a longitudinal study of transnational elementary and middle-level students as they navigate the linguistic and other transitions required of them.
Tacelosky and Ferrari with a student
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Students returning to Mexico after being exposed to English in the U.S. have many obstacles to overcome, Tacelosky explained. “Here we have ESL to support students, but there is no such comparable idea in Mexico for people who might have Spanish as their second language. This is sort of complicated by the fact that their parents are Spanish speakers, so they may or may not know Spanish at a level appropriate for their education. They speak it at home, they may look the part and act the part, and they may have some cultural associations with the country of their parents, but they may consider themselves to be more closely related to the U.S.,” she said.
With the intent to track individual students, Tacelosky, through Arnold Grant funding, has been able to conduct two research trips to Puebla, Mexico during the summers of 2012 and 2013 during which she and student collaborators Ashely Ferarri ’14 and Megan Rozinski ’13 conducted interviews and literacy tests to track the individual students’ transformations, challenges, and preferences.
Their endeavors were the first of their kind, and therefore, challenging at times. “There isn’t one other team of research working on the question—they’re in education and sociology of education, so they’re not linguists,” Tacelosky explained. “It’s not like any one school has a load of transnational students. They’re transient by nature, so there’s never a large number at a time. The best method was to do a longitudinal study and keep in touch with the same students over time. The other people doing this research is going into the schools and doing a 30-minute survey,” she added.
Ferarri, who accompanied Tacelosky on both trips, noted that this summer’s trip was aimed toward creating opportunities for transnational students to maintain their bilingualism if they desired to do so. “We wanted to show them that even if they might feel like they are alone, in actuality, there are others like them in the very same town,” she said.
The teams’ goals were to first understand the transnational student situation from an academic perspective, and then after determining students’ wants and if they desired to maintain their English fluency, find ways to support such students.
One project the team took on was the creation of an English club where students were able to connect and socialize with other transnational students in their town. “We’re interested in them as people, not as research subjects, which is why we started the English club,” Tacelosky said.
Being that the student-faculty collaboration was productive and unique, Tacelosky and Ferarri have been given the opportunity to present their research and methods during the 9th annual Conference on Applied Learning in Higher Education in Missouri this March. The two-part conference will first cover Tacelosky’s role as an advisor and will also include a discussion of learning outcomes.
According to Ferarri, the Arnold Grant has allowed her to experience what she refers to as the highlight of her college career. “The experience has taught me about flexibility and forging connections with people internationally. We build up cultural boundaries so often, but I think that the chance to learn from each other is a great thing,” she said.
Upon graduation in May, Ferarri plans to apply for the same grant that Tacelosky was initially granted during the beginning of the linguistic research project, bringing the whole process full circle. If awarded the Fulbright grant, she plans to conduct ethnographic research in Spain.
As Tacelosky has continued her research, she has found ways to bring her studies to the Lebanon Valley College community. She is currently forging a relationship with Lebanon High School ESL students so that her own college-level Spanish students can work with them, therefore creating learning opportunities for both parties.
“We have to stop thinking about borders as the edge of education and realize that we have an opportunity and a challenge to meet the needs of all students in the system, and that some of them are going to be coming from other countries. We have to think of it as a transnational education, and I think that’s a challenge within the public schools,” she said.